Intvu: Emily Wilder, fired from AP over ‘political’ social media comments

Photo: Emily Wilder, a 2020 graduate of Stanford University, was fired from her Associated Press job over past social media posts related to Israel.Angel Mendoza

Emily Wilder was fired from her job at AP after conservatives resurfaced old social media posts concerning Israel.

20 May 2021 | Eric Ting | SFGate

Emily Wilder, a journalist and 2020 graduate of Stanford University, started a new job as an Associated Press news associate based in Maricopa County, Arizona, on May 3.

Two weeks later, she was unceremoniously fired by the news outlet after conservatives resurfaced old social media posts that drew attention from Republicans as prominent as Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton. In Wilder’s eyes, her firing is the latest example of right-wing cancel culture.

“There’s no question I was just canceled,” Wilder told SFGATE by phone Thursday afternoon. “This is exactly the issue with the rhetoric around ‘cancel culture.’ To Republicans, cancel culture is usually seen as teens or young people online advocating that people be held accountable over accusations of racism or whatever it may be, but when it comes down to who actually has to deal with the lifelong ramifications of the selective enforcement of cancel culture — specifically over the issue of Israel and Palestine — it’s always the same side.”

Wilder, who worked with the Arizona Republic upon graduation until this May, became a national news story after the Stanford College Republicans wrote a Twitter thread Monday highlighting Wilder’s pro-Palestine activism in college as well as some of her old Facebook posts. In one post, Wilder referred to the late Sheldon Adelson — who was a Jewish billionaire, Republican mega-donor and staunch defender of Israel — as a “naked mole rat.”

Wilder, who is Jewish, said she would not have used such language today. Not long after the thread started to gain steam on Twitter, Wilder says an Associated Press editor called her and said she would not get in trouble for her past activism and social media activity.

“The editor said I was not going to get in any trouble because everyone had opinions in college,” Wilder said. “Then came the rest of the week.”

On Tuesday, the conservative Washington Free Beacon published an article about Wilder, writing, “The hire could fuel concerns about the AP’s objectivity amid revelations that the news outlet shared an office building with Hamas military intelligence in Gaza.” On Saturday, an Israeli airstrike destroyed the Associated Press offices in Gaza after the Israeli government said the militant group Hamas operated out of the same building. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Monday he hasn’t yet seen any evidence supporting Israel’s claim. Reportedly, a cease-fire was issued on Thursday, after the deaths of at least 227 people in Gaza and 12 in Israel.

Workers clear the rubble of a building destroyed by an Israeli airstrike Saturday that housed the Associated Press, broadcaster Al-Jazeera and other media outlets, in Gaza City, Sunday, May 16, 2021.  Adel Hana/AP
Workers clear the rubble of a building destroyed by an Israeli airstrike Saturday that housed the Associated Press, broadcaster Al-Jazeera and other media outlets, in Gaza City, Sunday, May 16, 2021. Adel Hana/AP

On Wednesday, two more conservative outlets — The Federalist and Fox News — published their own stories on Wilder, and Cotton tweeted of Wilder’s employment, “Not a surprise from a media organization that shared office space with Hamas.”

Wilder said she received an “onslaught of absolutely vile messages” as the story picked up steam. On Thursday, her employer delivered the final gut punch.

“They told me that I violated their social media policy and would be terminated immediately, but they never said which tweet or post violated the policy,” she said. “I asked them, ‘Please tell me what violated the policy,’ and they said, ‘No.'”

An Associated Press spokesperson confirmed to SFGATE that Wilder “was dismissed for violations of AP’s social media policy during her time at AP,” but did not address any other issue Wilder raised, stating that the AP generally does not comment on personnel matters.

Wilder said that because her editor originally noted that “everyone had opinions in college,” she sees her firing as selective enforcement against those who have expressed criticisms of Israel.

“This is clearly a case of selective enforcement,” she said. “I don’t buy their convenient cover story at all because they never told me what specifically I did wrong, and in the termination letter, they said the harassment campaign prompted the review, and in that review they found supposed violations of their policy.

“That’s an admission this was prompted by the campaign against me, and it’s really unfortunate the Associated Press is abdicating their responsibility to not only me, but to all journalists just because a group of college students wanted to engage in a witch hunt.”

Wilder has since received support on Twitter, with several prominent journalists coming to her defense.

“Amazing how quickly a talented young reporter’s career can be snuffed out by a Twitter mob that decided to feign outrage over some college tweets,” tweeted the Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler. “And if [Wilder] somehow violated @AP’s social-media rules, the solution is to offer guidance, not termination, to a new reporter.”

“‘Hire [Emily Wilder]’ is something more and more people are saying,” wrote Kessler’s Washington Post colleague Dave Weigel.

Wilder notes she was covering Arizona-specific news for the Associated Press prior to her termination, and while she still has strong opinions on the Israel-Palestine conflict, “every journalist has opinions” that are not relevant to “fact-based reporting.”

The now-unemployed Wilder is currently in the process of sorting out her next steps but said she regrets none of her past activism.

“It’s devastating of course,” she said. “I love journalism and part of what I think makes me such a capable, powerful journalist is how much I care about the people I write about, particularly the marginalized. That’s why I joined the Associated Press, and they saw me as capable. This is of course a really hard situation, and I’m not sure what’s going to happen next.”

AP’s firing of journalist following tweets prompts outcry

21 May 2021 | DAVID BAUDER | AP

NEW YORK (AP) — The Associated Press is being criticized for firing a young journalist over her social media activity, with some suggesting the news agency bowed to a political pressure campaign over her pro-Palestinian views from when she was in college.

Emily Wilder, 22, had started at the AP on May 3 as a news associate for the Western U.S., based in Phoenix. On Wednesday, just over two weeks later, the AP informed her that she was being terminated for violations of its social media policy that took place after she became an employee.

In the days before her firing, Wilder had been targeted in conservative media for her pro-Palestinian rights activism while a student at Stanford University, where she graduated in 2020.

AP spokeswoman Lauren Easton would not say what Wilder had written that violated the policy. Wilder said she wasn’t given specifics.

Her Twitter feed since joining the AP contains a few retweets that appear sympathetic to Palestinians in the current Gaza conflict, including a video clip of demonstrators chanting, “Free, free Palestine!”

On Sunday, she tweeted: “‘objectivity’ feels fickle when the basic terms we use to report news implicitly take a claim. using ‘israel’ but never ‘palestine,’ or ‘war’ but not ‘siege and occupation’ are political choices — yet media make those exact choices all the time without being flagged as biased.”

AP prohibits employees from openly expressing their opinions on political matters and other public issues for fear that could damage the news organization’s reputation for objectivity and jeopardize its many reporters around the world.

“We have this policy so the comments of one person cannot create dangerous conditions for our journalists covering the story,” Easton said. “Every AP journalist is responsible for safeguarding our ability to report on this conflict, or any other, with fairness and credibility, and cannot take sides in public forums.”

In an interview, Wilder said that she had received social media training from the AP and had taken it seriously. She said she had even taken down a reference to supporting Black Lives Matter from her Twitter profile.

“Because I have an opinion about an issue that is deeply political and personal doesn’t mean that I am incapable of fact-based, contextual and fair journalism,” she said.

She also said: “There’s no question that this was all precipitated by an onslaught of harassment against me.”

On Monday, two days before her firing, a Twitter post from Stanford Republicans had criticized Wilder, who is Jewish, as an “anti-Israel agitator” while on campus. They posted a 2019 article she had written in the college newspaper referring to conservative media figure Ben Shapiro as “a little turd.” Shapiro has been fiercely critical of the Palestinians.

On Tuesday, an article in the Washington Free Beacon was headlined, “AP Hires Anti-Israel Activist as News Associate. AP’s Objectivity in Question Amid Revelations it Shared Office Space with Hamas.” It was picked up in other forums, including the Fox News website.

Over the past few days, AP itself has been criticized by some conservative figures following the Israel airstrike last Saturday that destroyed the building that housed the news agency’s offices in Gaza. The AP has said it had no knowledge that Hamas operated out of the building, as Israel claimed.

Following the bombing, the AP sent a memo to its staff members reminding them of its policy against expressing opinions on contentious public issues. The message was repeated on Monday.

Janine Zacharia, Wilder’s journalism professor at Stanford and a former Jerusalem bureau chief for The Washington Post, said she could not understand why the AP didn’t just discuss concerns about the tweets with Wilder instead of firing her.

Zacharia said she believes that Wilder’s activism in college was the real issue and worries about the message that the AP is sending. Many one-time activists put their passion into journalism, as Wilder did as an intern at The Arizona Republic, she said.

“What happens if you were a college activist and then decide that you want to become a journalist?” she said. “Does this mean that you can’t?”

Social media and the generation that has grown up with it have posed challenges at news organizations as they try to uphold standards of objectivity. The AP maintains doing so is important for an organization whose calling card is fairness.

“It’s important to recognize that for an organization like the AP, there are colleagues all over the world covering every possible topic,” said Kathleen Carroll, the organization’s former executive editor and now chairwoman of the Committee to Protect Journalists.

“That’s why journalists covered by the social media policy need to be careful that their posts don’t jeopardize the ability of their colleagues to work freely,” Carroll said. “What may be personal expression to one person is right at the heart of a story to a colleague somewhere else.”

The AP stressed that the firing was based on what Wilder had done while employed at the news organization.

As for the news organization’s use of terminology, the AP Stylebook urges against references to “Palestine” because it is not a fully independent, unified state. The AP has made references to Israeli occupation and said that Gaza — and Israel — have been under siege during the latest fighting.


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